POLS 395: Political Psychology


Professor Rebecca J. Hannagan


ZU 406 – 753-9675

Office Hours:  M 12:30 – 1:45 pm                                                                                      

W 4:00 – 5:30 pm and by appt.


Course Objective:   Political psychology as a field is defined largely by its preoccupation with the role of human thought, emotion, and behavior in politics.  Political psychology speaks to so many aspects of political phenomena – from American politics, to comparative politics, to international relations.  Political psychology is important to understanding how ethnic identities contribute to state conflict and how voters react to the particular traits of leaders or campaign rhetoric, for example.  Even though the topics we will cover deal mainly with American politics, I encourage you to try to widely apply the concepts we cover to other areas of politics.


You will have to do a considerable amount of reading, analytical thinking and writing in this course.  As we progress through the material it is my hope that you will become more comfortable with the readings and your ability to react to them. 


Course Materials: 


  • Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Political Brain by Drew Westin
  • Articles posted on Blackboard (pdf format)


You are expected to have your reading done each day before you come to class.  This is a seminar style course, based more on discussion than lecture.  Part of your grade is contingent upon your participation in class discussion so it is important that you come to class prepared to discuss the material. 


Calculation of Grades: 

Your grade in this course will consist of your performance on two essay exams (a midterm and a comprehensive final exam), five reaction papers, and class participation.  The following is a breakdown of how the grades will be weighted:


Midterm Exam            25%                 Reaction Papers                      25%                

Final Exam                  30%                 Attendance/Participation        20%


I will adhere to the following grading scale:

100-97% = A+

89-87% = B+

79-77% = C+

69-67% = D+

59% < = F

96-93% = A

86-83% = B

76-73% = C

66-63% = D


92-90% = A-

82-80% = B-

72-70% = C-

62-60% = D-





General Information: 

I do not accept late work, nor do I offer make-up exams (NO EXCEPTIONS! Don’t ask).  If your homework or paper is late, you will receive a 0 on that assignment.  If you do not show up for an exam, you will receive a 0 on that exam.  If you have a situation that requires exception, you must notify me well in advance and/or be prepared to produce documentation of your emergency. 


Blackboard is your friend.  Check it often for announcements and important course documents.  I reserve the right to modify the schedule in the interest of time or due to the difficulty of the material.  If I decide to modify the schedule I will notify the class immediately upon my decision and post an announcement on Blackboard.  If changes are made and you are not aware of them because you do not regularly attend class or choose to sleep during class there will be no exceptions made to accommodate you.  It is in your best interest to attend every class and pay attention to the material being covered.


This syllabus is a contract between me (the professor) and you (the student).  The syllabus will be available on Blackboard throughout the semester for your reference.  If you choose to remain in this class I assume that you agree to the policies and procedures I have set forth in the syllabus. 


Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities.  Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CARR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building.  CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors.  It is important that CARR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


For important information on the Department of Political Science, please visit: http://polisci.niu.edu/


Academic Dishonesty:  

The maintenance of academic honesty and integrity is of vital concern to the Department of Political Science and the University community. Any student found guilty of academic dishonesty shall be subject to both academic and disciplinary sanctions.  If I find that you have plagiarized your academic work, you will receive an F on the assignment – no exceptions.  If you are caught cheating, falsifying, or otherwise misrepresenting your work twice you will fail the class.  In addition, if I suspect academic dishonesty your name will be turned over to the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the Chair of the Political Science Department who will make a determination as to further disciplinary action which may include academic probation or expulsion.


Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, the following: cheating, fabrication and falsification, plagiarism, and misrepresentation to avoid academic work.  I would like to reiterate that I take this very seriously and therefore, so should you.


Schedule of Readings:


The Mind

  • Gladwell, Malcolm.  2005.  Blink:  The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  New York: Little Brown. 


  • First Reaction Paper Due over “The Mind” Readings.



  • Westin, Drew.  2007.  The Political Brain:  The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.  New York:  Public Affairs.


  • Second Reaction Paper Due over “Emotion” Readings.


Midterm Exam


Political Cognition

  • Zaller, John R., and Stanley Feldman.  1992.  “A Simple Theory of the Survey Response:  Answering Questions Versus Revealing Preferences.”  American Journal of Political Science  36: 579-616.  (pdf on Blackboard)


  • Lodge, Milton, Marco R. Steenbergen, and Shawn Brau.  1995.  “The Responsive Voter:  Campaign Information and the Dynamics of Candidate Evaluation.”  American Political Science Review  89: 309-326.  (pdf on Blackboard)


  • Third Reaction Paper Due over “Political Cognition” Readings.


Persuasion and Attitude Change

  • Cobb, Michael D., and James Kuklinski.  1997.  “Changing Minds: Political Arguments and Political Persuasion.”  American Journal of Political Science  41: 88-121.  (pdf on Blackboard)


  • Baum, Matthew A. 2002.  “Sex, Lies, and War:  How Soft News Brings Foreign Policy to the Inattentive Public.”  American Political Science Review  96: 91-109.  (pdf on Blackboard)


  • Fourth Reaction Paper Due over “Persuasion and Attitude Change” Readings.


Group Identity

  • Conover, Pamela Johnston. 1988.  “The Role of Social Groups in Political Thinking.”  British Journal of Political Science 18: 51-75.  (pdf on Blackboard)


  • Pratto, Felicia, Debora G. Tatar, and Sahr Conway-Lanz.  1999.  “Who Gets What and Why: Determinants of Social Allocations.”  Political Psychology  20: 127-150.  (pdf on Blackboard)


  • Fifth Reaction Paper Due over “Group Identity” Readings.


Final Exam



Reaction Paper Assignment


A reaction paper is a two-page (typed, double-spaced, 12 pt. font) “reaction” to a group of readings.  I want you to react to the readings and not summarize the readings.  I read them.  I know what they are about.  I do not want a book report.  I want your reaction paper to illustrate that you had some sort of an “intellectual struggle” with the material.  I want you to take up one or more of the issues raised and talk about the problems, implications, your proposed solution, a different (“better”) way of looking at the issue, etc.  Think big.  This is hard, but another challenge is that it must ONLY BE TWO PAGES LONG. You will be down-graded if you go beyond two pages.  I recommend you get your thoughts down on paper then walk away from it for a day or so.  When you come back to it with fresh eyes you will be able to decipher what is important to say and what is not.  [Note: reaction papers done 20 minutes before class are generally really bad.]


Here are some Dos and Don’ts that may help you:




  • Be analytical – think BIG!  What are the implications of the key points of a reading or readings in the short-term, long-term, etc.?
  • Challenge the argument or assumptions being made by an author or authors and suggest an alternative
  • Consider problems with the approach or methodology being used and suggest an alternative
  • Integrate common themes among the readings wherever you can





  • Summarize
  • Tell me you think the reading was long, boring, interesting, funny, etc.  You are not a literary critic.
  • State the obvious
  • Ignore the important themes among the readings